The Kokoro Files highlights the connections between everyday people and Japan. The Japanese alcohol industry has inspired people all over the world, and David De La Torre was determined to find his way into the industry at all costs.
David is the founder of Japanese craft beer, Mori 1984. With a range of unique flavours and an emphasis on soft water, Mori 1984 certainly stands out in the craft beer market. Yamato Magazine caught up with David about the story behind the beer and how a trip to Hiroshima gave him the inspiration to shape the brand.
Thanks for taking the time to chat David. Where did your appreciation for Japan first come from and what made you want to be involved in the hospitality industry?
I started working part time at the age of 15 in a Wedding and Banqueting complex, which also happened to have a Michelin Star restaurant. My role as any newbie involved polishing lots of cutlery and supporting the seniors in several tasks whilst running or preparing weddings.
I’ve always loved food, so sometimes working in the back of the house of a Michelin star has its perks. If you’re kind to the chefs, they know how to treat you well with staff meals.
I kept this part time job until I moved to the UK at the age of 23 to study my MBA in Manchester, and I also got involved working at Radisson Edwardian whilst studying.
For people who are unfamiliar with Mori 1984, what sets you apart from other craft beer companies?
We brew bottle conditioned beers and we are lucky to have a great source of soft water in a remote area of Niigata. It’s all about water and great craftmanship.
What inspired you to go out and start brewing your own craft beer?
Brewing my own beers whilst living in London and coming across some difficulties dealing with hard water.
You mentioned that when doing research in Japan, you focused on finding a partnership in Niigata. What was that process like?
This was probably the most difficult part, not just communication, but we also had no track record in brewing beers on a large scale. So, some of the beer breweries we tried to partner up with hesitated to give us a chance. However, destiny made sure that we found the right partner to grow together with.
I really like the idea behind the name Mori 1984 name being connected to Mori Motonari and Hiroshima. How did you settle on the name and what kind of emotions did you want to evoke with it?
I have done some branding projects but had never had my own brand before Mori 1984. Getting my own brewing style took some time and when I wasn’t learning about that, I was researching new hops in craft beer bars while on business trips. I tried to focus on my own experience whilst sipping beers to get an idea of name, branding, and other aspects.
It took well over a year to do it, but it all came together on a Shinkansen trip to Hiroshima. I researched Edo Period Lords in the Hiroshima area and found out the previous name for Hiroshima in the Edo Period was Mori. So, it all linked together.
The logo for the beer is as striking as the name. I remember you saying that you told the story of Motonari’s wife to the model you chose for the picture. What was it like working with her?
ONEQ, the designer is based in Kumamoto, south Japan. After some Skype calls with her and explaining the project, she really got engaged with the idea. However, I didn’t know she refuses 9 out 10 jobs she gets proposed, so I was very lucky she accepted the project.
I knew she was the best for the brand, as I had been following her art for a long time. So, I couldn’t be happier when she accepted to work with us.
What kind of qualities does Japanese soft water give to beer?
Soft water allows you to penetrate to the core of anything you boil, especially grain. This gives you a unique edge and the beer gets well balanced. It’s not harsh and it doesn’t have any unpleasant aromas.
What are the biggest challenges that you see in the craft brewing industry?
All pub chains are massively controlled by big brands and it is almost impossible to get into it. This means that the number of pubs you can approach is reduced.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?
Have more free houses and young people working in the industry. This will push the industry as customers will demand more unique brews more often.
It feels like there’s a lot of innovation going on with craft beer right now. How important do you feel that experimentation is to stand out in the market?
We have come a long way over the last 5 years, and I think there is a lot more to do, specifically in reducing costs. We should innovate on platforms that allow all craft beer breweries to join and improve on logistics. It’s one of the hardest parts of the final cost. But when it comes to taste, we’re on the right path.
What does the future hold for Mori 1984 and are there any new kinds of beers that we can look forward to trying soon?
We’re working hard to improve logistics from Japan. We also want to reduce the amount of middlemen to become more competitive and we’ve recently achieved a lot in these areas.
When it comes to our products, we’re working on an all year round pilsner and trialing exporting in one-way kegs (KEYKEG) to have the chance to enter into the local taprooms. At the moment we only export in bottles.